How to Play Squash
Squash is a high-speed racquet sport played by two players (or in doubles 4 players on court at a time) in a four-walled court with a small, hollow rubber ball. Squash is recognized by the IOC and remains in contention for incorporation in a future Olympic program.
The game was formerly called squash racquets, a reference to the “squashable” soft ball used in the game (compared with the fatter ball used in its parent game racquets (or rackets; see below).
Squash developed from at least five other sports involving racquets, gloves, and balls having roots in the early 12th century in France. It is stated that “Squash, with its element of hitting balls against walls, was for entertainment. For example, boys slapped their balls in narrow alleys and streets”. Religious institutions in France, such as monasteries, developed a similar game.
Monks used gloves that were webbed to hit balls against a fishing net strung across the middle of the courtyards of the monasteries. This developed the early “racquets” used in tennis and squash. Then in late fifteenth century, tennis was developed and spread to other European nations. The next major development of squash took place in England where the game of “racquets” was developed in Fleet Prison, a debtor’s prison.
Similar to tennis, it involved racquets and balls, but instead of hitting over a net as in tennis, players hit a non-squeezable ball against walls. A variation of rackets that also led to the formation of squash was called fives, similar to handball. Fives was essentially the game of racquets, without racquets. (The ball was hit with the hand.) It is played against a wall or walls.
Old and new styled Squash racquets
These games gained popularity in schools, and squash itself was developed at Harrow School in England. The first courts built at this school were rather dangerous because they were near water pipes, buttresses, chimneys, and ledges. The school soon built four outside courts. Natural rubber was the material of choice for the ball. Students modified their racquets to have a smaller reach to play in these cramped conditions.
The racquets have changed in much the same way as those used in tennis. Squash rackets used to be made out of laminated timber. In the 1980s, construction shifted to lighter, carbon-based materials (such as graphite) with small additions of such components as Kevlar, boron and titanium. Natural “gut” strings were replaced with synthetic strings.
In the 20th century the game increased in popularity with various schools, clubs and even private citizens building squash courts, but with no set dimensions. The first squash court in North America appeared at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire in 1884. In 1904 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the earliest national association of squash in the world was formed as the United States Squash Racquets Association, (USSRA), now known as US-Squash.
In April 1907 the Tennis, Rackets & Fives Association set up a sub committee to set standards for squash. Then the sport soon formed, combining the three sports together called “Squash”. It was not until 1923 that the Royal Automobile Club hosted a meeting to further discuss the rules and regulations and another five years elapsed before the Squash Rackets Association was formed to set standards for squash in Great Britain.
The sport spread to America and Canada, and eventually around the globe. Players such as F.D. Amr Bey of Egypt dominated the courts in the 1930s. Heather McKay of Australia dominated the game during the 1960s and 1970s, winning sixteen consecutive British Open titles between 1962 and 1977. Another Australian, Geoff Hunt, won a record eight British Open male titles between 1969 and 1981. During the 1980s and 1990s Jahangir Khan of Pakistan won the British Open a record of ten times and Jansher Khan of Pakistan won the World Open a record of eight times.
No list of squash champions is complete without referencing the legendary Pakistani Hashim Khan, winner of 7 British Open championships, and his son, Sharif Khan, winner of 12 North American Open titles. Hashim is considered one of the best athletes of all times and is the patriarch of a sports dynasty, consisting of himself, his brother, Azam, nephews Mohibullah and Gul, sons Sharif, Gulmast, Aziz, Liaquat Ali, and Salim Khan – all of whom are squash champions in their own right. Jansher Khan, although sharing the same legal last name, is not considered part of the “Khan Dynasty” of squash as he is not related to Hashim Khan.
Standard racquets are governed by the rules of the game. Traditionally they were made of laminated wood (typically ash), with a small strung area using natural gut strings. After a rule change in the mid-1980s, they are now almost always made of composite materials or metals (graphite, Kevlar, titanium, boron) with synthetic strings. Modern rackets have maximum dimensions of 686 mm (27.0 in) long and 215 mm (8.5 in) wide, with a maximum strung area of 500 square centimeters (90 sq in), the permitted maximum mass is 255 grams (9.0 oz), but most have a mass between 110 and 200 grams (4-7 oz.).
Squash balls are between 39.5 and 40.5 mm in diameter, and have a mass of 23 to 25 grams. They are made with two pieces of rubber compound, glued together to form a hollow sphere and buffed to a matte finish. Different balls are provided for varying temperature and atmospheric conditions and standards of play: more experienced players use slow balls that have less bounce than those used by less experienced players (slower balls tend to ‘die’ in court corners, rather than ‘standing up’ to allow easier shots). Depending on its specific rubber composition, a squash ball has the property that it bounces more at higher temperatures. Small colored dots on the ball indicate its dynamic level (bounciness), and thus the standard of play for which it is suited. The recognized speed colors indicating the degree of dynamism are:
Colour Speed Bounce
Orange Super Slow Super low
Double yellow Slow Very low
Yellow Slow Low
Green or white Medium/slow Average
Red Medium High
Blue Fast Very high
Balls are manufactured to these standards by Prince, Dunlop, Pointfore, Wilson, Black Knight and others. The “double-yellow dot” ball, introduced in 2000, is currently the competition standard, replacing the earlier “yellow-dot” ball. There is also an “orange dot” ball, which is even less bouncy than the “double-yellow dot” ball, intended for use in areas of high altitude such as Mexico City, Calgary, Denver, and Johannesburg. The lower atmospheric pressure at these high altitude regions means that the ball bounces slightly higher, resulting in the need for such a ball.
Given the game’s vigorous action, players wear comfortable sports clothing and robust indoor (non-marking) sports shoes. In competition, men usually wear shorts and a t-shirt, tank top or a polo shirt. Women normally wear a skirt and a t-shirt or a tank top, or a sports dress. Wrist and head bands may also be required in humid climates. Polycarbonate lens goggles are recommended, as players might be struck with a fast-swinging racket or the ball, that typically reaches speeds exceeding 200 km/h (125 mph).
In the 2011 U.S. Open, Cameron Pilley was recorded driving balls at speeds of 175 mph (280 km/h). Many squash venues mandate the use of eye protection and some association rules require that all juniors and doubles players must wear eye protection.